Title: Running on Empty

Author: Kipli

Rating: PG-13 (mostly for language and slight romance)

Pairing: Reed/Tucker; Reed/Mayweather; Archer/Tucker

Summary: Sequel to "Empty", Reed still feels there is something missing in his life and resolves to at least look into Tucker and Mayweather's past love lives, in order to see if he has a chance with either man.

Note: This fanfic includes m/m romantic and physical situations. Set roughly some time after "Acquisition" and directly after my other piece. I'd like to thank Katt for help with a little UK speak, being the dumb yank that I am.  Also thanks to the usual suspects: Kalita for a good boost for my down-and-out plot bunny, Kim for once again a lovely beta job, and those at the #trekslash chats for grade A bunny chow. This fic will no doubt continue into yet another, no worries. And to all those that must know, email me to find out which movie the gang in this fic are going to see, if the mystery haunts your dreams.

Archive: Yes to EntSTSlash, otherwise ask pretty please.

Feedback: Any positive suggestions, comments, or questions are always welcome at Kipli16@yahoo.com.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns the universe. I just live there.

He wasn't exhausted but he wasn't rested either. He was stuck somewhere in between. Staring at the breakfast sitting in front of him, Malcolm Reed felt as if he was not quite all there. His true self seemed to be floating about two feet above his head... or perhaps it was still curled up in bed. The pancakes covered in peanut butter seemed oddly far away, even as they sat in front of him. Was he really sitting at a table in the mess hall? Or was he dreaming?

A glass crashing to the floor snapped Malcolm back into reality. He glanced over to see a contrite Ensign picking up the remains of the glass. Lucky for her, she had not yet filled the cup. He stared in a slightly detached manner as she worked to get all the shards from the carpeting. A few other crew members assisted in a friendly fashion as they attempted to alleviate the woman's embarrassment. If he dropped a glass, would anyone help him?

Malcolm looked back at his breakfast and forced his left hand holding his fork to move. He needed to at least appear as if he was eating. Spearing a piece of pancake, he took a bite, then another, before sipping his tea. The taste of the food woke him up and he continued to work slowly on the pancakes.

He was worse than the night before, Malcolm decided. That had been in his own quarters after a long day. It was slightly excusable behavior. After a night of sleep, he had thought he would return to normal. However, not only did his quarters seem empty, now so did the rest of the ship. He couldn't stand it. Why was he feeling so damned depressed? Malcolm was beginning to see he would have to resort to drastic measures to come out of it.

"They're not interested," Malcolm muttered to himself before taking another bite, thoughts of Mayweather and Tucker coming to mind. Besides, don't psychologists say starting relationships while being mentally unstable never work out? His thoughts paused. Work out? He snorted. Relationships never lasted long with him anyway, what the hell did he have to loose by trying now? Nothing to lose, just two friends...

But why not probe Travis and Trip for information? He didn't have to declare his interest. All he had to do was see what they thought of same-sex relationships... and maybe what they thought of him. Then he'd go from there. That's as far as he needed to plan, for now. He simply had to be tactical in his questions and choice of words. He could do that, right?

Rubbing his eyes with his free hand, Malcolm sighed. Sure, yes, he could handle that mission. It gave him an ounce of hope and a good dose of anxiety, but it also gave him something to focus on. Only, would a warm body really fix everything?

"You look like hell, Malcolm."

He blinked his eyes to see Trip sitting down across from him with a plate of french toast and a glass of juice. Malcolm stared without replying.

After a moment, Trip gave him a look. "What, savin' this spot for someone else?"

Malcolm shook his head as he quickly looked down at his food, picking at it. "Oh, no, no you're fine there. Sorry, I'm just a little out of it today."

"I'll say. Did you sleep at all last night?" Trip picked up his fork and started in on his food.

"A little."

"Trouble getting to sleep?"

He shrugged noncommittally. "I got to bed at a decent hour. I guess I simply didn't sleep very well."

"Weird dreams?"

Trip seemed as nonchalant as him, but Malcolm looked up from his plate to see concern in the other man's eyes. He made note of it to consider later, then answered, "I don't recall any." It was a lie. His dreams had been the epitome of weird. Monstrous caverns, a bright pink Bridge, his father raging mad with him, dark and then light hands stroking down his bare chest...

Considering Malcolm for a moment, Trip took a drink of his juice before responding. "So you have no idea why you slept so badly?" He gave Malcolm disbelieving glance.

"Not that I've... figured out yet." Malcolm looked down at his food. "Perhaps I simply slept wrong."

"Perhaps..." Trip echoed, not sounding too convinced.

"How are the final repairs coming along?" Malcolm decided it was time to get off the subject of himself. Far too easy to slip up.

"Everything's up and running again finally. Double and triple checked that we weren't missing anything. Those little guys sure tried to take off with everything not nailed down." Trip shook his head. "Took us forever to get it all back into place."

"It has been a long couple of days."

"At least they didn't make off with it all." Trip grinned. "And what would we have done without T'Pol and Hoshi?"

"Heaven knows. The ship would have fallen to pieces, no doubt."

Trip chuckled lightly. "Bet they'd bust free and come back to us before they hit the slave market. I hear Hoshi has a mean punch."

"What makes you think they'd want to come back to us?" Malcolm managed a half-grin.

"Aren't we lovable?" Trip smirked.

Malcolm rolled his eyes before finishing up his tea. Trip did have a way of getting his mind off of his troubles for a moment or two. "You've got those blue eyes, I'll give you that much."

"Don't discount yourself, Malcolm. I've seen a few of the crew members glancing your way."

Nearly sarcastic, Malcolm replied, "Really? Who?" He seriously doubted Trip's claim. People watching him?

"And embarrass them by getting them caught starin'?" Trip was all grins.

Malcolm shook his head, giving him a stern look in return. "Don't lie to me just to cheer me up, Commander."

"I'm not lyin'. Scouts honor." Trip raised his fork in one hand, crossing his chest with his knife in the other.

"Trip, you were never *in* Boy Scouts."

"So?" He smiled slyly as he returned to eating, then his face grew more serious. "I swear it's true."

"Then who?"

"You really expect me to tell and get chewed out by your fan club?"

Malcolm blinked. "My fan club?"

"Well sure. You're quite the looker Lieutenant."

Now what was Malcolm supposed to think of a comment like that? He certainly knew how he wanted to take it. But more likely than not, it meant nothing, simply a tease. "Oh you think so, do you?"

A wink in response from Trip caused Malcolm's heart to jump. Well that certainly added more fuel to his fire.

"It's hard not to notice a loudmouth like you," Trip replied.

Malcolm snorted. "Loudmouth?"

"Well, when you're pissed off anyway." He smirked.

The table went silent for a moment as both men finished their breakfasts. Picking at the last of his pancakes, Malcolm worked up the courage to ask a rather too obvious question. Would it alert Trip to his interest? He recited the line in his head a few times. Did it sound too out of place? Too interested in the topic? Swallowing, he decided he might as well ask it... "Well, you certainly have a fan club of your own. Ever think of having a relationship onboard the ship?"

"Sometimes. But you know the rules. No dating anyone under your command. Not without the junior officer approaching you first at least. So, there ends that train of thought." Trip set his fork down as he finished.

"You could always bonk the Captain." Malcolm couldn't believe what he'd said, embarrassed the moment it escaped his lips. What the hell was he saying that for? So much for damned tact!

Surprised, Trip blinked before chuckling, a slightly embarrassed flush coming over his face at the suggestion. "'Bonk the Cap'n?' I never knew you could be so crude and still sound so damn proper, Malcolm." He smirked.

Looking a little pale, he rushed to apologize. "I'm sorry, sir. I shouldn't have said it. I-"

Trip held up a hand to stop him. "It's true enough. He's the one person on the ship I could approach myself. But I'm not sure the Cap'n would appreciate a good 'bonking'." Trip shook his head as he watched Malcolm play with the last of his pancakes in embarrassment. "Why are you so interested in who's watchin' you anyway, Malcolm? Wondering if you caught a certain girl's attention?"

A girl's attention? Hardly. "No... I didn't have anyone specific in mind anyway..."

"Just a little lonely?" Trip gave him a warm smile. "You should come to the movie with everyone tonight. Get out a little. You spend too much time in those empty quarters of yours doin' work."

The word 'empty' immediately caught Malcolm's attention. Empty indeed... Maybe Trip was right. Perhaps all he needed was a little time with friends. And had he just been asked out on a date? No, everyone else would be there. Not a date. Too bad... "Perhaps I will come to the movie."

Both officers stood and picked up their dishes. "I could always spread the word around that you're lookin' for a little company. I'm sure a couple brave ensigns might come knocking on your door."

"Trip, don't you dare." Malcolm shot the other man a look as they disposed of their dishes.

"Fine, fine, but you'd better come to the movie." They headed for the door.

Malcolm thought about it for a moment, then asked, "Will there be any explosions?"

* * *

Travis was watching the readings on the consol in front of him intently, calibrating weapon's sensor alignments from time to time. Malcolm had watched the other man out of the corner of his eye all morning. How lovely fate would hand him a morning of working in the Armory with the younger man. It was quite the opportunity. But for most of the morning, Malcolm had been at a complete loss as to how to sneak his way into discussing personal matters. It had been so easy with Trip. But now with Travis... Well he had worked so many times with the man in the past that any possible ways of broaching the subject seemed far too obvious in Malcolm's mind. The Ensign was not stupid.

"There, parameters set," Travis announced.

Malcolm nodded, getting up from his crouched position beside Travis and walking to the main controls. He looked over the readings. "Set the other torpedo tube to the same parameters."

Glancing back, Malcolm watched the smooth motion of the younger man moving over to the other station and couching back down. This was tedious work but Travis never complained about it. Travis never complained about much of anything. He was nearly always upbeat. And that grin of his... Malcolm had a sudden urge to see Travis' smile and quickly picked a train of conversation that would get him what he wanted. "Don't you ever complain, Ensign?"

"Sir?" Travis looked up, puzzled.

"This has to be boring work." Malcolm grabbed a PADD and strolled over to join him with the re-calibration. "Wouldn't you rather be flying?"

Malcolm was rewarded with a grin. "It's nice to get off the Bridge some times. And anyway, the company is nice down here."

A little surprised by the reply, Malcolm crouched down beside Travis. "Flattery won't get you a promotion any faster, Ensign."

"No but it helps doesn't it?" Travis' grin grew, then he looked back down at his work. "Are you coming to the movie tonight?"

"Trip's invited me... but he won't tell me what's playing."

"Probably afraid you won't come."

"It isn't a drama, is it?" Malcolm asked as he watched the readings and then double checked his PADD.

"You should expand your horizons, Malcolm. Not every good movie has explosions in it."

"That's your opinion." Malcolm grinned a little. "Besides, I hear Trip is rather fond of... tear-jerkers." Yes, at this point in his life, all he needed was a good cry in public. He grimaced and Travis chuckled as he caught a glimpse of it.

"Well it's not that bad. You probably won't fall asleep. But it does have some romance in it."

"Not going to tell me what the movie is either?"

Travis' grin twisted into a sly smile. "Nope. Trip's right. If you knew what was playing, you probably wouldn't come."

"I can't stand romance films."

"It's not all romance. Just some... tender moments. Aren't you a romantic at all?" asked Travis, giving him a glance.

"Not particularly." Malcolm noticed the skeptical look from the younger man and replied sarcastically, "Well I'm not writing love poetry or singing sonnets."

Travis laughed lightly. "I wasn't expecting anything *that* romantic. But with a girl, didn't you ever... go on a romantic night out or do something spontaneous? There's got to be a romantic bone in your body somewhere."

Malcolm stalled for a moment, attempting to look as if he was quite fascinated with his PADD. He despised telling anyone much about himself. But, if he wanted Travis to open up, he would most likely have to open up as well. "Periodically I would take them out for the evening."

"You sound like you're performing maintenance on a shuttlepod."

Then again, maybe he could get Travis to talk first and then weasel his way out of having to tell of his own rather discouraging love life. "What, and you're 'Mr. Romance' now?"

"Compared to you." Travis grinned wide as Malcolm rolled his eyes slightly. "I did spontaneous little things all the time. I dated a girl back on my parent's cargo ship for three years. She was wonderful... We did all kinds of silly romantic things for each other."

For a long second, Malcolm agonized over a question looming in his head. It sounded too obvious, too interested. But when else was he going to get into this subject again with Travis any time soon? He looked at his PADD once more as he asked, "You've only had that one relationship?"

"I've had a few others. None that have lasted as long."


"And you've been a silly romantic for all of them?" Malcolm half-grinned as he looked up.

"Pretty much. Life's no fun unless you dive into things head first. Even if I've made a fool out of myself, at least I tried my hardest to have a good time and enjoy the moment. I... still have some of the little gifts Johanna gave me."

This took Malcolm by surprise. He realized he had yet to see the Ensign's quarters. Was it filled with mementoes and memories? Just as full as Malcolm's was empty? And Travis kept trinkets from a finished relationship? Malcolm never kept anything. Hell, he never kept many of the gifts his old friends gave him, let alone old lovers. "You've kept her gifts?" He managed not to sound too shocked.

"A few things. The littlest gifts that meant the most." Travis looked up to see Malcolm's surprise. Embarrassed, the younger man glanced back down. "Well I mean, nothing that big... One time Johanna somehow traded for a single rose. I don't know how she managed to find one. Then she dried the petals and made a clear glass press for them. It sits on my desk..."

"Have you kept things from all your relationships?"

"Um, most of them. The girls always put so much time and effort into getting them for me... I could never really just throw them out."

Malcolm's heart fell. Girls... all girls. He swallowed to keep his disappointment from showing. That did it. He had enough evidence. Travis could not possibly be interested in him. Mentally he crossed the younger man off his very short list. He tried to console himself, knowing it would have been hard enough to broach the subject with Travis without getting in trouble for approaching a subordinate. It was best he didn't try. And now he knew he shouldn't even entertain the idea. Travis was sensitive, gorgeous, and... liked women. End of story.

"Sounds like some very lucky women," he managed to get out in reply, hoping he pull off a convincing teasing tone.

"None of them complained." Travis glanced up and Malcolm did his best to cover up the empty feeling settling in his stomach.

Standing, Malcolm walked back to the main control panel. "Parameters set?"

He could just hear a barely audible sigh from Travis and for a split second his mind wondered what it meant, before he shoved the thoughts aside harshly. Travis was straight. That was it. No more second guessing. He just had to forget about it.

The younger man replied from behind him, "Set."

* * *

When the midday break came, Malcolm made up a quick excuse to get out of having lunch with Travis. He needed to get away. If only there were a park to walk through, fresh air and sunshine. Or failing that, a little private one-on-one time with a punching bag. Something to snap him out of his disappointment.

As he walked into his quarters, Malcolm stalled inside just as the night before. The quarters were so empty, so entirely the opposite of what he needed. But he was alone finally. No one to watch and judge him. The mask that had been in place for the past hour slipped and his face fell. Swallowing down the urge to completely break apart, he took a ragged breath as he ran a hand over his face.

"Damned idiot," he growled at himself, punching on the lights.

Malcolm marched to the bathroom, avoiding his reflection in the mirror, and turned on the faucet, harshly splashing water over his face. He had to snap out of this. This depressed, brooding Malcolm Reed was going to drive him insane. He was supposed to be disciplined, distant, and satisfied with life. Where had this melancholy, overemotional self come from?

Wiping his face dry, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he turned off the water. Trip was right, he did look like hell. It was a wonder Travis hadn't commented on it. The circles under his eyes attested to his lack of sleep. His face was drawn. He looked at least ten years older, lines running along his etched face. His eyes were a distant gray, the shine of blue having disappeared. For a quiet moment he stared into those vacant, unsteady eyes.

"A bloody mess," he muttered aloud. He was ripped apart inside and it showed through clearly. No one in their right mind would want him. He was more than a fixer-upper. He was that shack in the woods no one would ever buy, it was so fallen to pieces. An unsteady breath and he punched the countertop to stop the breakdown tugging at his heart. He was not going to cry, god damn it!

Swallowing hard, Malcolm was relieved to feel the pain in his knuckles from the punch and turned away from the mirror. Work, he needed to dive into some work and distract his mind. No more thinking about Travis, no more thinking about Trip. Definitely no more thinking about himself. Work would keep him occupied enough. Occupied until dinner... Why the hell had he ever decided to go to that movie?

* * *

The shift was nearly over. After Travis returned to the Bridge, Malcolm had managed to work alone the entire afternoon. He reveled in the chance to think only about the ship and her systems. With no one to distract him, his mind was quick to centered on just work.

However, fifteen minutes until the day was done, and he had a report that needed to find its way to Engineering. It would be extremely unnatural for him to send anyone else with the report. It was his project. Being a workaholic, he'd normally never let anyone touch his finished work. He had to leave his little nook of safety soon enough anyway. It was just... More one-on-one time with Trip would only raise his hopes. Could he stand another crash?

Grabbing a PADD loaded with the report, he made sure his face was as neutral as possible before climbing up the stairs out of the Armory. It was only a quick trip to Engineering. The Commander was in front of his warp core, finishing up what appeared to be some diagnostic scans. Malcolm cleared his throat as he looked up at the man on the platform, eyes scanning over Trip's well filled out uniform, before managing, "Commander?"

Trip glanced back and then smiled warmly as he saw him. "Malcolm, is it 1700 already?" He looked for the time.

"Not quite." Had he been expecting me to pick him up after the shift?, Malcolm wondered. He thought this wasn't a date. "I dropped by to give you that report on the phase cannons."

"You're done?" Trip asked as he slipped down the stairs, taking the PADD from him. "Don't run yourself ragged on my account, Lieutenant."

"Just had a productive day is all, sir."

"T'Pol would be proud of your efficiency," Trip said as he scrolled through the data on the PADD. "And thoroughness. You did this all today?"

"I... was inspired."

Trip looked up and watched Malcolm's face for a moment. "What are you avoiding?"

Malcolm blinked. "Excuse me sir?" Damn, Trip was no fool. Quick, he needed to come up with a reasonable lie.

"You heard me, Malcolm. You must have spent at least half the day cooped up somewhere drillin' this out. Why?"

"I knew you wanted the report as soon as possible," came his lame response.

"I said any time this week, Lieutenant. Now give me the real reason."

Malcolm felt a brief flash of panic, then set his jaw. "No reason, Commander. If you'd like I can come back in a few days and bring you the report then." He was dangerously close to sounding insubordinate.

Trip shot him a look. "Don't mock me, Malcolm. You obviously didn't sleep at all last night, you've been hidin' out in your quarters all week, and now you even hid away this shift. What's goin' on?"

Sucking in a deep breath, Malcolm looked away. "Nothing-" he started again, but Trip quickly cut him off.

"Nothin' my ass."

"Commander," Malcolm snapped, eyes shifting back onto Trip. "Can we please drop the subject?"

"Fine, but you're comin' to eat dinner with the Cap'n and me." Malcolm opened his mouth to protest. "That's an order, Lieutenant."

Restraining a frown, Malcolm nodded as he replied dryly, "Yes sir."

"Wait here a minute while I finish up. Don't go wanderin' off anywhere."

Trip walked over to his work station and called up the data from Malcolm's PADD, then finished up his day's work. Idiot, Malcolm thought to himself, closing his eyes for a half second. He should have realized Trip would figure things out on his own. Why hadn't he thought of a good lie? Trip had dropped the issue for the moment but that wasn't going to be the end of it. Nothing but a fantastically well told lie or the embarrassing truth would satisfy the Commander now. Damned stupid idiot.

It didn't take Trip long. He was soon leading the way to dinner with the Captain. Just what Malcolm needed, two superior officers to pry into his personal life. As they headed off the lift and into the mess hall, he stumbled to think up a fantastic enough lie for his behavior.

"Trip, who said you could bring Malcolm?" Archer said with a smile as they walked into the captain's private dining room.

"He followed me here; besides couldn't leave him out in the cold, sir," came Trip's easy reply to the tease.

"I can eat elsewhere if-"

"No, no," Archer cut Malcolm off, gesturing to chairs as he sat at the head of the table. "Glad to have you Malcolm. T'Pol decided not to join us tonight, so glad to have the extra company. Sit down, you look exhausted."

"Looked just as bad this morning," Trip said as he sat to Archer's right.

"I'm simply not sleeping well." Malcolm sat opposite Trip, wondering why the hell he always instantly became the topic of conversation lately.

"Phlox could probably fix you up with something to knock you out, if it gives you much more trouble." Archer was looking him over, probably attempting to figure out how long Malcolm had been sleeping poorly. Would he ever be able to guess two weeks?

"I'm fine."

"Just the same, you might want to see our good Doctor."

Malcolm shrugged noncommittally. "If you say so sir."

Archer looked about ready to press the subject, when dinner arrived and the conversation stalled as plates of pasta were placed in front of each of them. Even after skipping lunch, Malcolm paled slightly at the sight of food. He wasn't hungry and grew nauseous at the idea of eating. His stomach felt hollow and empty but he didn't want to eat. However, Archer and Trip were both watching him out of the corner of their eyes as they started on their dinners. Damn it, he didn't want to be here. He wanted to run away, bolt to his quarters and curl up alone to listen to the warp core's humming. He tried to pick out the low hum in the background noise but was unsuccessful.

Swallowing down his disgust, Malcolm picked up a fork and speared some of the pasta before managing to take a bite. He wanted to gag but instead grabbed for his water. He was a bloody mess! Was he trying to top himself in peculiar behavior every few hours? Deep breath, stay calm. He could manage to live through dinner; don't think about eating, just swallow.

"You sure you're okay, Malcolm?"

Trip's turn to ask about him again. Malcolm looked up and barely managed a half-smile. "I'm fine." Utterly depressed and wanting to curl up into a ball was all, nothing really. His thoughts halted as he saw the deep look of concern in Trip's blue eyes. He was so worried about him... Malcolm's heart ached to think it meant anything. "I've just been... spending a little too much time alone lately."

"Friends are the key to keeping you sane on a long voyage, or so they say," Archer replied. "Tea?"

"No, thank you."

Archer nodded and turned to pour Trip some iced tea, not having to ask his friend if he wanted any.

Watching Malcolm take another bite of food and manage not to gag, Trip gave Archer a smile of thanks for the tea. "Ya know you should take your own advice, Cap'n. Come to the movie tonight. I'm already draggin' Malcolm and Hoshi to it."

"Travis is going as well," Malcolm spoke up, his tone stuck unidentifiably between interest and disappointment.

"What movie is it?" Archer asked.

"Don't bother, he won't tell you with me in the room."

"That bad then?" Archer chuckled.

Trip smirked. "Malcolm's just too into action flicks. But you can know what it is, Cap'n. I'm sure you'll still want to come." He leaned over to whisper into Archer's ear.

Malcolm suddenly recalled the embarrassing observation he had made at breakfast. The two men did make a fine couple, even with the years separating them. Had their friendship ever crossed over into more? It was never obvious in public anyway, but sometimes Malcolm did wonder. It was one of the reasons the comment had slipped out that morning. It seemed so much more likely that Trip would want Archer, not him. What could lowly Malcolm Reed have that would possibly compete with Captain Jonathan Archer?

Archer grinned as Trip leaned back away from him. "Yeah, I don't see Malcolm going to that of his own free will."

"Oh fantastic, now I'm really thrilled to be going," came Malcolm's grumble.

Trip flashed him a smile. "You'll still like it, I swear. You just need to give other genres a chance."

"Long as you don't cry, I suppose I'll survive the ordeal."

"Hey, I had somethin' in my eye," Trip snapped.

"Oh please Trip," Archer chuckled. "You always get wrapped up in movies. And those romance novels you read-"

"Cap'n!" Trip pleaded, cutting Archer off. "I... I don't read any romance novels..."

The blush creeping over Trip's face said otherwise and Malcolm truly grinned for the first time in a long while. "You read those horrid novels with half naked men on the covers?"

Trip looked stuck between wanting to curl down in his chair to hide and wanting to tackle Archer for revealing the tidbit of personal trivia. He nearly growled, "I do *not* read romance novels. They're historical fictions."

The glare from the younger man quickly drew a sly smirk from Archer but he put up his hands in surrender. "Fine, sorry Trip, you don't read romance novels." He returned to eating, adding under his breath, "But that box of books in your closet with half-naked men on the covers says otherwise."

Malcolm chuckled as Trip turned a deep red, Archer looking quite pleased with himself.

"That's it!" Trip snapped, pointing a finger at Archer, then turning to Malcolm. "Wanna know what he has in *his* closet?"

"Trip, okay, never mind," Archer quickly backpedaled, drawing Malcolm's interest. Actually, what did the Captain have in his closet?

"Oh so this isn't so fun any more, is it?"

"Sorry but you're too easy to tease. Promise I won't open my big mouth again tonight."

Trip sighed. "Fine but you're gettin' off easy."

"And here I thought I'd get two good bits of gossip to tell Hoshi later," Malcolm said coyly before he realized where he was exactly again.

The other two officers stared for a moment, the comment very much an unexpected tease, before they broke into a light laughter. "Are you a gopher for her ship wide gossip channel, Lieutenant?"

Returning to looking uncomfortable and pale, Malcolm swallowed. "Oh, no sir. Just... um-"

"Don't you dare tell Hoshi, Malcolm. What'll it take to keep you quiet?" Trip immediately jumped in.

A good sound kiss ought to do it, instantly replied his mind. He had to blink back a blush at just the thought. "Tell me what movie is showing tonight."

"Aww come on, you'll never come if you know what it is."

"Tell me or Hoshi gets to know about the half-naked men in your closet." If only that were literally true...

Slumping back in his chair, Trip sighed heavily. "Fine, I guess everybody was bound to find out sooner or later."

Malcolm blinked. Trip would rather he spread the rumor than tell him? This movie had to be worse than he thought. Or maybe Trip just wanted him to come socialize that badly. Either thought was distressing. He hadn't missed the easy interactions between Archer and Trip all evening and his hopes had diminished, but now they returned with a vengeance. "You really want me to see this film so badly?"

"I just want you to get out some Malcolm. Ya know, you sleep better after a night socializing with friends."

"Is that clinically proven?" Archer teased.

Trip shot Archer a look, then continued with a grin at Malcolm. "Just didn't want to have to resort to spreadin' the word around that you're lookin' for some company."

Archer blinked. "You're looking for a romance on ship, Lieutenant?"

Oh bloody hell, shut up Trip! Just what he'd feared, the two were jumping into discussing his private life. Could the Commander ever drop a damn subject? Malcolm was a nice pink shade by now, he was sure. "No, not really sir."

"Gettin' the truth out of you is like pullin' teeth."

Malcolm shot Trip a look. "Perhaps I'd just rather not discuss my personal life with two of my commanding officers?"

"We're all just people off duty, Malcolm," Archer chided. "But if you want we can drop the subject. Only, Trip does play a handy matchmaker."

Too surprised, he had to ask. "Matchmaker?" Damn and that had been his chance to let the subject drop.

Trip beamed a smile. "Once or twice. My sister and her husband will attest to my amazin' abilities. And for you Malcolm I wouldn't have to look too far."

Puzzled for a moment by what the other man meant by that, Malcolm stared before shaking his head. "No thank you Trip."

"What if I just put in a good word for you with a couple crew members and-"

"*No* thank you."

With a shrug, Trip let the matter drop and the conversation lulled again as dessert was served. Just who in the world did Trip have in mind desperate enough to want him anyway?

* * *

Andorians, Klingons, Suliban - none compared to what he faced now. Exactly which god had he pissed off so badly? Surely blind luck couldn't land a person into this kind of situation. If he ever needed to be reminded why he hated to socialize, he'd certainly been slammed over the head with the lesson tonight.

Utterly uncomfortable, Malcolm sat sandwiched between the two men who most occupied his thoughts. Alone in bed this might not have been so distressing, but sitting in a crowded rec room waiting for the feature to start was another matter. Toss in the fact that both men were currently engaged in flirting with the two other members of the group and Malcolm was straining not to bolt for the door.

"You can't be serious," Sato chuckled from the other side of Travis. Giggled was more like it, Malcolm mentally grumbled.

"Since when do I lie to you?" Travis replied, a grin planted on the younger man's face; Malcolm didn't have to look to know it was there.

"You've really seen Casablanca sixteen times?" Another damn giggle and Malcolm nearly snarled at her. Just jump into his lap Hoshi and save us the whole innocent young woman routine.

Malcolm stared straight ahead at the blank screen and hoped no one noticed how tense he had become. As if they hadn't forgotten he was there already...

Trip and Archer were deep into a discussion about warp core upgrades. It just seemed a little too professional of a topic to engage in before watching a film. They were obviously trying to keep anyone from thinking anything about them. Well they weren't fooling Malcolm. At least one would think Archer would have the decency to publicly let everyone know Trip was taken.

Malcolm's heart sunk as he heard a soft chuckle from both men to his right. He was a complete idiot to think Travis or Trip would find him desirable. There were far too many better lovers out there to pick from. Why had he ever raised his hopes like he had?

"You okay?" came a soft whisper in his ear. He couldn't suppress a shiver at Trip's breath and warmth.

"I'm fine." It was Malcolm's mantra for the day, his eyes glancing over at Trip.

"You look pissed as hell. You... really don't have to stay for the movie if you don't want to."

That damned worried look in Trip's eyes again. Don't toy with me like this Trip, Malcolm's mind pleaded, his eyes betraying his thoughts. "I'm just exhausted. Is it a long movie?"

"Yeah but they'll be showing an edited down version. We all gotta get up tomorrow mornin'." Trip was looking into his eyes, most likely attempting to figure him out.

A giggle from Sato followed quickly by a chuckle from Travis, and Malcolm set his jaw before he flicked a glance over at the two. Just bonk each other and get it over with! He looked back to see Trip watching him with a new expression on his face. And then Malcolm recognized the look. Trip had seen him. Trip had seen him look almost longingly at Travis before shooting Sato a cold look. Trip had seen... Bloody hell.

He moved to flee but Trip grabbed him by the arm, holding him down. "That's it?" Trip asked in a low whisper. "That's what you don't want to tell me?"

"I, um..." Trip's eyes were demanding and Malcolm gave in under the stern gaze. "Partially," he managed to whisper back, looking down and away. The lights dimmed and concealed his flushing face.

"Partially? Malcolm, come clean with me."

The room was growing quiet. Trip wanted to talk now? Well then, time to crash and burn in a horrible public wreck. Back to those empty quarters of his again... He shot Trip a harsh look, then melted as he saw the concern once more in the other man's eyes. What the hell did he have to lose? "Partially," Malcolm repeated but this time he let all the desolation and sincere desire for more fill his eyes.

Trip blinked as recognition set in. Then Trip's eyes glanced over at Archer and Malcolm's heart fell. He had been right. Bloody fucking hell, he had been right! Archer was watching them out of the corner of his eye, clearly tense at how close they were while whispering. No... oh god he had to get out of there.

Ridiculously flamboyant music filled the rec room as the movie started. Malcolm jerked his arm free of Trip's grip and uttered a bitter "Excuse me" to Archer as he hurried down the row to the door.

"Malcolm, wait," Trip called out as he followed after him into the corridor.

Back tense, Malcolm snapped around and struggled to hold himself together. "I believe I have some sleep to catch up on Commander. If you don't mind, I will be skipping the movie tonight."

"I can help, Malcolm. I'm..." Trip blushed and Malcolm quickly turned in disgust to head back down the corridor. "No, wait, I may be taken but I could-"

Malcolm spun around and glared. "Did I *ask* for your assistance, Trip?!" Not waiting for an answer, he took off around the corner. He needed to rip something to shreds.

* * *

Why did he try? Why did he even try? He was supposed to be happy with his lot in life. Why did he suddenly want to leap for more? It just wasn't worth it.

Alone in the gym at the late hour that it was, Malcolm pounded his fists into the punching bag. He had long sense worn out his legs with a marathon ride on one of the bikes. His arms still had some strength left in them however and he intended to beat himself into exhaustion so that he would knock out the moment he hit the bed. He needed sleep. Sleep without fantastic dreams. Sleep so he could look refreshed and not get twenty questions from Trip tomorrow. Trip... He slammed his fist into the bag before giving it a solid kick.

Archer and Trip? It was all so clear. Every little tease they gave each other on duty, every single joke pointed at one another. It was their way of flirting in public. He slammed the bag again. Why hadn't he seen it? And Travis, well there was no questions left about that man. Sato had been flirting up a storm and he seemed to have absolutely no problem with it. He grunted and slammed the bag as he dove into one last round of punches. Never should have tried, never should have tried.

Sucking in deep breaths as he took a step back from the punching bag, his bare chest gleamed with sweat. His whole body spoke of exhaustion. He could hardly stay up on his feet. His muscles strained to keep himself steady. Maybe now he could get some sleep.

Staggering to the changing rooms connected to the small gym, he managed to take a quick shower in one of the public stalls. He despised feeling unclean. Pulling on his old uniform, he tossed the workout clothes into the hamper. His quarters weren't far. He ran his fingers through his damp hair and then rolled his shoulders as he headed out.

His body ached and burned with the short walk but the sinking emptiness in his gut still remained. Empty quarters... God, those harsh walls were going to be his undoing. The mask of neutral expressions was barely in place as it was. Facing another night alone in those quarters... He shut his eyes for a moment as he took the lift up a deck. He shouldn't think about it. He just had to sleep. Everything would be fine if he could just sleep a whole night through once again. Maybe he'd even get back to his old self. Stop thinking about... love.

The lift came to a stop and he struggled to hold himself together as he opened his eyes to step out. Just a few more feet to his quarters, then he could beat himself up and lose himself in the isolation. His strides grew longer as he came around a corner. Just a little further. He was not going to break down in public, damn it. He spotted his quarters.

And then he froze.

His mind couldn't quite comprehend the sight for a moment, waiting to discover he had dreamed it. He blinked and blinked again but still there he stood. Travis. Travis was leaning with a shoulder against the frame to Malcolm's door, hands behind his back. He was looking down and hadn't spotted Malcolm yet.

It had to be at least 2300 hours. What was the Ensign doing there? Obviously waiting for him but... His mind reeled with the possibilities, only he was so exhausted physically and mentally. He latched onto the one most negative scenario he could think of, since that seemed to be the theme for the day. Trip must have told Travis of his staring, so now Travis was going to tell him he felt it was sexual harassment and wanted to talk before he reported him to Archer. Sounded about right for the day.

Willing himself to move with great effort, he crept his way up to his quarters and beside the other man. "Ensign?" He sounded as weak as he felt and he flinched slightly at the exhaustion in his voice.

Travis' eyes snapped up immediately. Such a liquid brown color... He felt himself melt at the gaze, then wrenched himself back together. Like hell he was going to break down now, in the corridor with Travis. But the man didn't look upset with him. He looked concerned and maybe-

He cut his own thoughts off. Forget it! Life was not going to go his way, ever.

"Malcolm, where have you been?"

"I decided I needed a good work out, rather than a tear-jerker." He sounded remarkably steady and he marveled at his own ability to so soundly keep his outward appearance together.

"You look like you beat yourself up pretty good." Travis leaned away from the door and nearly appeared to shuffle his feet in apprehension, hands still behind his back. "Mind if we talk?"

Malcolm let out a soft sigh. "I am rather exhausted, Travis..."

"Only take a moment."

The pleading look in Travis' eyes was his undoing. Malcolm swallowed back the desperation clinging at his heart and punched in the code to his quarters. "Fine."

He stepped into the quarters first and ridiculously looked around to be sure everything was put away neatly. As if he quarters were never tidy. Taking a deep breath, he turned around to face Travis as the door shut behind them. "So what did you wish to talk about?" How did he manage such a steady voice?

"I..." Travis started, then stalled, staring at Malcolm as he searched for words. Malcolm's outer shell nearly broke and he blinked to keep it in place. He was not going to have another disaster like with Trip. He was not going to reveal himself only to be made a fool. Travis looked at him for a long moment. "I know." The floor dropped out from under Malcolm but he managed to keep his stone face in place as his heartbeat soared. "I know why you look so horrible. Why you're not sleeping. Why you won't eat meals with me any more unless I force you to. Why you hide out in your quarters. Why you walked out of the movies tonight. Why you beat yourself up for the last couple hours while I waited here..."

"Whatever Trip said-" Malcolm started his lame excuse as he looked down at his feet.

"Trip didn't say anything. He didn't have to. I'm not stupid Malcolm."

Malcolm flinched at the last words, whispering under his breath, "I know you aren't Travis."

"Good, then don't try to weasel your way out of this. We're going to discuss it. You think I wouldn't clue in, even after you wanted to know about my past love life? You never asked any questions before, Malcolm. And then you ask those? After watching me all morning?"

"I'm sorry if I behaved inappropriately. Please forgive my interest-"

"Inappropriately?" Travis interjected. Malcolm could feel Travis staring at him and he swallowed hard to keep himself in one piece. Travis sighed. "You think I'm mad?"

Malcolm glanced up to see Travis shake his head at him. "Well, I mean..." Malcolm answered quietly. His shell started to crack and he blinked to keep his emotions at bay. "You like women." He stated it as if it were a fact, as if it were a law of nature.

"Yeah? So? Doesn't mean I don't like men too." Malcolm's mind reeled with the statement. Travis seemed to notice Malcolm's state and went on with a half grin. "Bisexuality can't just be a boomer thing."

It was ridiculous he hadn't thought of it. He stared in disbelief. "But... but you said women. You only talked about women. All the women who had given you gifts, you kept them." It sounded stupid even to his own ears.

"I mentioned the girls because I was lucky to get a box of chocolates from any of my boyfriends before they jumped me." He chuckled softly. "They weren't exactly creative in that department." Travis took a deep breath before looking Malcolm in the eyes. "I'm sorry if you took things the wrong way. I knew I made a mistake when you closed up from me this morning. I didn't mean for that. I'd like to try a different approach."

Realizing Travis still had his hands behind his back, Malcolm watched as the other man placed something into his hands. He stared for a long moment. The rose petal press. His facade shattered. With a sob, his grip tightened on the press as his legs gave out. Travis caught him easily. "It's okay," he soothed, steadying Malcolm and holding him with one arm around his waist. "I thought it would look nice on your desk. Mine is so cluttered..."

"I can't accept this, Travis." He sniffed and attempted to blink back the tears sneaking down his face. "It means too much to you."

"I want you to have it. These quarters are too barren. You need some beauty in your life." Travis blushed slightly as he went on, "Some pleasure. Some love."

"Why me?" Malcolm managed to get out, trembling in his attempt to stay as put together as he was. "Why pick me? You're gorgeous and intelligent, Travis. I'm..." He shook his head. "I'm a bloody mess."

"Don't sell yourself short.  You're more gorgeous and intelligent than me.  You're so very desirable Malcolm. I've been caught staring your way more than once."

"Trip..."

"Yeah, Trip. The Commander pegged me pretty quick for having a mild crush one on of my superior officers." Travis grinned softly while Malcolm stared at him in astonishment.

He could have skipped this all if only he had let Trip set him up in the first place? Oh god, bloody idiot Malcolm Reed. "You..." Malcolm was bowled over and couldn't quite find the words he wanted. "Really? You really..." his voice was pleading for a solid answer to the question he couldn't manage to get out.

"Yes, really. I want you. All of you. I've been trying to figure out how to get your attention for months now, Malcolm."

Malcolm let out a relieved sigh, easing himself more into Travis' embrace. "These quarters are so empty."

"I can fix that."

Travis reached to take the press but Malcolm didn't want him to move. It might all disappear. Quickly, before the daydream could vanish, he dove into a kiss. Travis was surprised but returned it, soft lips trying to soothe the ache in the other man's heart. Malcolm wanted to drag the kiss on forever and yet at the same time drag Travis off to his bed. No more empty quarters...

Slowly Travis pulled away, taking the press gently from Malcolm's hands. "I think this goes just fine right here." He set it down on the desk beside the computer console. "What do you think?"

"Looks lovely." He stared at Travis for a moment, then glanced at the bed before back at the door. "Please stay here tonight. These quarters... they get so cold and quiet."

"All right. But you need to sleep. Last thing your body needed was that beating you gave it tonight."

"I was... upset."

"Oh really?" Travis smirked slightly but then kicked off his shoes as he walked to the bed.

Malcolm marveled for a moment. Just like that? Just like that he had Travis? He swallowed hard and then joined the other man in undressing. They were soon in their blue tanks and boxers under the covers. Malcolm's exhaustion hit him hard the moment he felt the warm comfort of Travis while curling up in the blankets. He was right, Malcolm thought while curling up in the blankets, he needed sleep.

Clinging to Travis, he pressed his face against the younger man's neck, taking a deep breath of his scent. He wasn't alone. The room was not empty. And he was warm. A few tears slipped out from between his closed eyes and Travis caressed his back gently. How? How did something like this manage to happen to him? And after the day he had?

Sighing deeply, he whispered, "Thank you."

For the first time in a long while, Malcolm fell asleep listening to the breathing of another warm body pressed against his.

END